Teaching Uke!

philpot

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After weeks of phone calls and emails, I finally have a scheduled interview with a local music store for the position of ukulele instructor. This is a fantastic opportunity, as this music store is regularly voted as best music store and musical lessons provider in the county (currently the most wealthy county in the US by average income). I'm super excited for the chance to teach lessons at such an awesome local store.

That said, I was hoping I could get some advice from the UU folks. As part of the interview, I have to teach a 25 minute practice lesson to one of the store employees, under the assumption that they're a complete beginner. I was wondering what I should attempt to cover in the lesson. I have taught before, but most of my experience was with special cases. Someone who was competent in uke but wanted to overcome a plateau, a 7 year old girl with ADD and dyslexia, and others who weren't terribly interested in music, etc. They've also been relatively informal lessons with flexible structure. Because of that, I'm not sure how exactly to approach a formal initial lesson with a pure beginner in mind. Obviously I know what someone needs to learn as a pure beginner (basic terms, basic strumming, basic chords), and I don't think I'll have an issue teaching those things. I'm just wondering how to structure the lesson so that its a. not boring, b. not overwhelming, and c. covers sufficient material. I have a general idea of what I want to cover, but if any of you all have any sage advice for me, I would be glad to learn from those with more experience :) wish me luck!

-Phil
 

ukulelekarcsi

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I've overwhelmed students in the past as well. What I learned from teaching:

1. Keep your attention up, listen, look, 'read' your students. You'll notice what they like, what they hate, what's challenging, what's too difficult, what's too boring. You really can't tell in advance. Getting their names right, from the very first time, is crucial. I train on that. The focus is on them, not on your prepared 'stuff'.

2. Change the exercise every 10 minutes or so. Besides the classic 'i demonstrate, you imitate' I use flash cards (quiz, playing 'musical director'), promotional treats for getting something right, playing with the lights out/eyes closed, rhythmic exercices with hands and feet (no uke), guessing the ending (finding the right chord or note), making up new lyrics (encourages singing while playing). I agree that 'demonstrate-imitate' is probably the most effective method, but straying away from that workform keeps it all fresh and exiting. With smaller pupils, I often break down an hour-long lesson by teaching the cup drumming game from 'When I'm gone' - nothing to do with ukuleles whatsoever, but great for getting a communal sense of rhythm. Even a 25 min lesson can be long.

3. Be enthousiastic and encouraging. Sometimes you have a bad day yourself, and the lesson is usually at the end of it. More often than not, students haven't had practice since last lesson ('no time, sir'). What helps is trying to track their progress: what chords, what chord sequences, what strums, what fingerpicking patterns have they gotten down, and where were they last time. Sometimes the progress is small, but it's up to the teacher to notice it and to make it a big deal.

4. Don't overdo it. Here's where I fail often. I teach one-hour classes to large groups, and try to cram four or five differen steps into each hour. In reality, it takes 10 min to come in, get the coats off, put the chairs and papers where they have to be (no designated room), tune up (part of the course!), play something from last lesson. Then all steps progress much slower than you estimated, and some have to leave early. Too much is baffling and doesn't help.

5. Repertoire. This is also hard for me. Contemporary pop songs, classic songs, ukulele instrumentals, folk songs, time-of-the-year songs, children's songs... There is a lot to choose from. Often I get blank stares when I introduce a song. Adults don't always like it when you start out with 'michael row the boat ashore' of 'london bridge is falling' (tip: a lot of disco songs also have two simple chords, and a marching rhythm). Another tip is to ask why they're learning the ukulele, or how they think of using it: in the classroom, in the bedroom, with friends, for singalongs, for a particular party or talent show... I don't teach the flashy (but simple) Crazy G to kindergarten teachers because they won't be using it, and I certainly don't do children's songs with teenagers. Unless they're open to it. Repertoire can really bother students. My 12-year old daughter has guitar classes based on 'the house of the rising sun', which she doesn't know, can't sing and doesn't like.

That's my 5 cents. Congratulations, and good luck!
 
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philpot

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I've overwhelmed students in the past as well. What I learned from teaching:

1. Keep your attention up, listen, look, 'read' your students. You'll notice what they like, what they hate, what's challenging, what's too difficult, what's too boring. You really can't tell in advance. Getting their names right, from the very first time, is crucial. I train on that. The focus is on them, not on your prepared 'stuff'.

2. Change the exercise every 10 minutes or so. Besides the classic 'i demonstrate, you imitate' I use flash cards (quiz, playing 'musical director'), promotional treats for getting something right, playing with the lights out/eyes closed, rhythmic exercices with hands and feet (no uke), guessing the ending (finding the right chord or note), making up new lyrics (encourages singing while playing). I agree that 'demonstrate-imitate' is probably the most effective method, but straying away from that workform keeps it all fresh and exiting. With smaller pupils, I often break down an hour-long lesson by teaching the cup drumming game from 'When I'm gone' - nothing to do with ukuleles whatsoever, but great for getting a communal sense of rhythm. Even a 25 min lesson can be long.

3. Be enthousiastic and encouraging. Sometimes you have a bad day yourself, and the lesson is usually at the end of it. More often than not, students haven't had practice since last lesson ('no time, sir'). What helps is trying to track their progress: what chords, what chord sequences, what strums, what fingerpicking patterns have they gotten down, and where were they last time. Sometimes the progress is small, but it's up to the teacher to notice it and to make it a big deal.

4. Don't overdo it. Here's where I fail often. I teach one-hour classes to large groups, and try to cram four or five differen steps into each hour. In reality, it takes 10 min to come in, get the coats off, put the chairs and papers where they have to be (no designated room), tune up (part of the course!), play something from last lesson. Then all steps progress much slower than you estimated, and some have to leave early. Too much is baffling and doesn't help.

5. Repertoire. This is also hard for me. Contemporary pop songs, classic songs, ukulele instrumentals, folk songs, time-of-the-year songs, children's songs... There is a lot to choose from. Often I get blank stares when I introduce a song. Adults don't always like it when you start out with 'michael row the boat ashore' of 'london bridge is falling' (tip: a lot of disco songs also have two simple chords, and a marching rhythm). Another tip is to ask why they're learning the ukulele, or how they think of using it: in the classroom, in the bedroom, with friends, for singalongs, for a particular party or talent show... I don't teach the flashy (but simple) Crazy G to kindergarten teachers because they won't be using it, and I certainly don't do children's songs with teenagers. Unless they're open to it. Repertoire can really bother students. My 12-year old daughter has guitar classes based on 'the house of the rising sun', which she doesn't know, can't sing and doesn't like.

That's my 5 cents. Congratulations, and good luck!

Thanks for the advice! That's really helpful. I'm trying to get my head around future lesson planning now in addition to planning for the initial lesson, so all of your tips will hopefully be applicable in the near future :)
 
H

Hippie Dribble

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Hey Phil

can't really offer much by way of advice, but I just wanted to say all the best with the interview. From your posts it's obvious you have a passion for the instrument and a love of people. Really hope it works out for you and that it's merely the beginning of bigger and brighter things musically for you mate.
 

hollisdwyer

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Determining the 'entry behaviour' of your students is very important. Even though your absolute beginner test case may be new to the Uke, they may have some experience with some other instrument or with singing. Question the 'new student' about their background to determine if they have any skills you can build on. This will help you pitch your presentation at the correct level. Also make sure you ask for feedback re comprehension after you have introduced something new. Confirm comprehension by having them tell or show you what you have just taught them. Always be supportive.
Hope this helps a bit.
Good luck!
 
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flailingfingers

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I'm very interested in this thread since I want to teach the uke to my 7yo granddaughter. She's sorta open to the idea but had a mixed experience with the violin although she adored the teacher and liked the social aspect of the classes. I'm approaching this slowly. I look forward to other UU members with experience chiming in on this thread. Please!
PS- how about a work book that we could both use and progress through?
 

ubulele

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If the topic is the "best" way to teach uke as opposed to how to frame a single sample lesson to impress prospective employers, here's what I'd suggest:

Most uke players, I believe, are held back by artificial mental limitations they impose on themselves and are imposed on them by the common approach. In particular, fear of barre chords, movable chords, "complex" chords and the rather homogenous terra incognito of the middle and upper fretboard. They also reject the formality of anything smacking of "theory" as "I don't need to know that (right now)"; after all, when they see tabs, lead sheets or lyric sheets, the only "theory" they see are chord names, which they think they're expected to learn simply by rote, so no real theory there.

To counter these bad habits, I'd start the student off the way kids are sometimes started: by tuning the uke to an open tuning (C, G or A), then teaching them I-IV-V chord patterns using the open chord in conjunction with a barre across frets 5 and 7. Instantly they can play thousands of songs and concentrate mostly on strumming. Kids have no fear of the barre—generally, they don't expect or demand perfection, so if their barre is a little deficient, they can blithely live with it, and consequently, they can quickly adapt to it and improve.

This teaches folks right off the bat that a chord shape equates to a chord type, and only to a specific chord when in a particular position. In other words, it painlessly introduces them to the concept of movable chords. This concept can be easily extended into key patterns by having them play the same songs a step up, where all the chords are barre chords, then play it using the 7-0-2 fret group (moving from C to G, which may make a song a lot easier to sing), then shifting that pattern up a step.

Only then start with the C6 tuning. And here's where standard pedagogy fails. Even if kids started with movable barre chords, teachers don't continue that orientation by at least demonstrating (and having the kids try, but not necessarily teaching for immediate use) the movable chord patterns that correlate to each open-position chord used. Perpetuate that movable mindset from day 1. In fact, they can use the same fret patterns with the "nut" shape and corresponding movable shapes to play songs just like they did at first. (Tip: Switch to a dom7 shape and introduce blues songs that use only dom7 chords.)

The other thing that should be perpetuated from day 1 is a root-centric approach to chords. No matter how simple the chord being taught is, or how soon in the learning process, the root position of that chord should be taught, front and center. The whole chord shape should be mentally oriented around the root position—and the string it lies on. If a chord (like a major or minor triad chord) has a doubled root, point that out, but also indicate which is the "primary" root, the one which continues to be played in most close variants of that chord. For instance, for the C chord, a root is played on both the 3rd and 1st strings, but in the close variant C7, there is only the 3rd string root; therefore, that's the primary root of the C shape.

No, this isn't too hard for students to grasp—after all it (partially) explains why this is called a C or C7 chord, something most students with no previous musical training will naturally wonder. The root orientation also provides an anchor point around which to visualize the chord shape (reinforced digitally by playing the root alone before playing the whole chord, when initially practicing the chord in isolation), and that helps avoid confusion as the student encounters more and more shapes that all just look like random dots. It also starts the student identifying notes in first position on the fretboard.

The other thing to be introduced early in conjunction with this is the lateral "up by fourths" visual pattern that helps identify the I-IV-V chords for a key (by root position) and tracks the very common "resolution by fifths/fourths" chord patterns through the roots they've learned. (No matter what chord types are involved in the progression, the underlying roots stay the same—something that will later also help when substituting chords of a different quality, like a minor for a major or a 9th for a 7th.) This limits the amount of rote memorization a student has to do in order to use all the new chords he learns in the songs he is given or wants to play. When resolving, follow the pattern from the root you're on, and you know the next chord to play. You don't have to go through the mental indirection and fixity of chord names—in other words, you start to play like real players play.

I could go on about the practical and immediate advantages of learning roots from the get-go, but you get the idea.
 
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philpot

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Hey Phil

can't really offer much by way of advice, but I just wanted to say all the best with the interview. From your posts it's obvious you have a passion for the instrument and a love of people. Really hope it works out for you and that it's merely the beginning of bigger and brighter things musically for you mate.
That means a lot :) I appreciate it. Thanks for the support.

And thanks for the advice everyone! I got the job! Right now I'm just waiting on students, as there isn't currently a huge demand for uke lessons. I'm hoping I can help market it a bit and change that. The pointers you all have given so far have been incredibly helpful. If anyone else would like to weigh in on ukulele teaching in general, I would love to hear your thoughts.
 

Nickie

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I think you'll do well. The store should of course, support your recruting efforts. The 1st thing, in my first lesson was....believe it or not...

how to hold the uke correctly....if you miss that, you miss a big opportunity to get started on the right "foot".

My buddy that teaches gets a lot of students from our club. He just did a Begginer's Workshop at the music store. It was a hit, and I'll bet he has more than one new student.
 

Recstar24

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Good luck! I am considering contacting some of my local places and park districts about teaching uke as well.

As a junior high general music and chorus teacher who just started teaching uke this school year, below are some of my "wish I knew this before!" Starting points:

1) give the student a chance to share with you what they know, or just a chance to noodle/experiment/show off in front of you. You have to establish where they are currently before you know where to take them or what to do with them. If the person is playing the role of an absolute beginner, that means going over holding the uke, some kind of easy strumming activity, and an easy picking activity. I do open string echo picking first day of music rotation with my kids, and I start off with simple songs that use only c chord and a minor chord.

2) ask the "student" what they want/expect/looking forward to/hope to accomplish. The best teachers are able to establish where a student is, where to take them, and how to get them there. Try to think of what a completely new beginner may think of the uke, and what they most likely would want to do. My kids take a survey that asks them some basic music questions and also gives them a space to tell me what they know about the uke and what do they want to do with it - pretty much all the kids say the ukulele is a mini guitar from Hawaii and they want to learn to play popular songs on it lol.

3) you need early success, instant fun, and immediate gratification! In order to hook my kids, I've got stuff on the first day that I know will sound good, be fun, and not too intimidating. See above for one chord songs. If you want the kid to play a two chord song, use F and C/C7 - for an absolute beginner especially kid age, the 3 finger chords like G can be super difficult, they just don't have the coordination yet at that age.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you need or want specific things to do. I am sure you will rock your interview!